Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar is "dedicated to a continued exploration of Cuban heritage, art, music, flavors and traditions. The open-air setting, tropical ambiance, vintage décor, upbeat Latin music and Concept Chef/Partner, Guillermo Pernot's delectable menu of 'Nuevo Cubano' dishes and traditional favorites, make all of our restaurants a must-see, must-experience dining destination." Closest Metro is Gallery Place-Chinatown.

Photo: CityEats
With locations in Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Orlando, as well as DC, this restaurant has a dramatic flair that aims to transport you into the courtyard of a building in Havana, circa 1950. Lofty ceilings provide an airy ambience, while potted palm trees, cracked stucco walls and bistro chairs make you forget you’re merely steps from DC’s Chinatown. There is bit of a "Disney" feel with the décor, yet the large open interior and lively music provides a different ambience with a little exotic spice. Keith and I met up for lunch and were intrigued by the Rapido Lunch menu that is "designed to get you served quickly and on your way."

I chose the Del Mar option ($16) that featured a seafood soup overpowered with truffle oil, but full of fresh seafood; a small Mahi-Mahi filet on a bed of fragrant black rice with tender squid pieces; and a Cuban-style shrimp cocktail with large fresh jumbo shrimp in a vibrant tomato and avocado sauce.  Each mini portion was presented nicely on one platter.  My favorite was the fish filet, although it was also drowned by too much infused oil that dampened the lightness associated with most fish dishes. Keith ordered the Cuban Bento Box that changes daily ($16.50), and today featured an overly sweet guacamole with pineapple served with plantain chips; the house empanada filled with chicken, corn, and cheese; a half Cuban sandwich that was lackluster and standard; and a pitifully small bite of bread pudding with more pineapple chunks on top.  The best item by far was the hand-made empanada with its flaky crust and satisfying filling, but is still topped by empanadas served at local food trucks.

Freshly muddled cocktails are a specialty at Cuba Libre that might be worth returning for, as well as a new chef’s tasting menu that gives you 15 small plates and bites of the most popular items off the menu. Keep an eye out for flights of dishes throughout the menu – they’re a great way to taste multiple items for a steal.  Although we found the food to be average, the concept is fun and great for groups.  Plus, the Rapido Lunch menu is a value for those on a tight schedule.

Total Rating: 3.25
Food: 3, Price: 3, Service: 4, Ambience: 3.5, Accessibility: 5

What I ate:
Sopa Levanta Muerto
 "Raise the Dead" with this coastal seafood soup overflowing with shrimp,
Baja Bay scallops, crab meat and mussels.
Coconut milk fortified "Chino-Cubano" broth. Truffle oil. 

Dorado a la Plancha
fresh Mahi-Mahi filet seared on the griddle with olive oil,
 "forbidden" black rice and squid-lobster flavored asopado.
"Mojito" salsa verde and chipotle aioli. 

Cóctel de Camarones
Cuban style shrimp cocktail. Latino cóctel and avocado salsa.

Plus Keith ate:
Guacamole Cubano
avocado, golden pineapple, fresh lime juice and extra virgin olive oil.
Crispy plantain chips.

Mamá Amelia's Empanada
hand chopped chicken, corn, sweet peppers and Jack cheese

El Cubano
classic pressed Cuban sandwich. Ybor City style.
Sour orange marinated pork loin, Genoa salami, ham, provolone and Swiss cheese.
Yellow mustard-pickle relish. 

Pudín Diplomatico
warm banana and chocolate chip bread pudding,
Cuba Libre’s spiced rum, roasted pineapple.

 Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar on Urbanspoon

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